Planet Earth really should be named Planet Ocean. After all, over 70 per cent of the planet’s surface is covered in water.
That fact has definitely been driven home as I accompany the team from Ocean Networks Canada as they research deep-water life, and at times it’s been a shock to have nothing but water for a full 360-degree view around this ship. Being 300 kilometres from shore, it’s hard to imagine what can survive out here. As I’ve had to be reminded, the ocean isn’t just a flat surface, but a full three-dimensional habitat with amazing creatures coming from above, below, and all around. Here is just a small sampling of what we’ve seen so far.
On the Surface:
Northern fur seals have been regular visitors to the ship, spending time grooming and laying in the jets of water from our aft thrusters.
The most successful attempt I’ve had to photograph Pacific white-sided dolphins that have swum past. They’re incredibly fast!
The large albatrosses are seen daily. These birds can spend hours in the air without flapping a wing, or months without touching foot to land.
The Floaters (Pelagic)
There’s a lot of life floating in the water column too.
Sea water is used to cool the ship’s engine. There is a filter to strain out an foreign objects, but the amount of krill that was collected in 10 minutes is truly astounding.
A “Dumbo” octopus! A very rarely seen and not incredibly well understood deep water species of octopus. We found this one about 2,000 meters down.
Also around 2,000 meters, there has been some debate over whether this is a salp (a chordate, like humans) or a siphonophore (a cnidarian, like a jellyfish). Only deep in the ocean can an animal be either a relative of a human or a jellyfish and stump us for a while.
Bottom Dwellers (Benthic)
There is a lot of life along the bottom of the ocean as well.
Spider crabs have been plentiful, moving slowly under the huge pressures of the ocean bottom. They are often attracted by us placing equipment, since vibrations of something hitting the bottom could indicate a new source of food.
And some creatures that will have a whole post of their own – the worms, snails, and bacteria surrounding the Endeavour hydrothermal vents.
If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand studying marine life, you can start today.
If you log onto Digital Fisher’s website, courtesy of Ocean Networks Canada, you can help scientists identify the animals seen on their countless hours of footage. With the help of Ocean Networks Canada’s field guide, and a tiered system that lets you progress to bigger challenges at a steady pace, you can see huge numbers of the ocean’s strangest creatures, and actively contribute to our understanding of them.
Planet Ocean is yours to explore, right from home.
By Vancouver Aquarium educator Colin Young.
Colin is accompanying Ocean Networks Canada on a research trip to the Pacific aboard research vessel R/V Thompson. With the help of ROVs and Ocean Network Canada’s deep water observatory, NEPTUNE, the team is gathering information on aquatic life in the ocean’s deep waters. Colin is blogging and sharing updates along the way.